Barbara Scott Emmett is one of those rare authors whose prose is so superb that I enjoy every sentence, and at the same time as I want to get to the end to find out what happens, I don’t want it to end because the pleasure of reading her writing is just so good. In this book, Dog Leap Stairs, set in the fifties, Emmett writes in first person point of view as Monica. From the begining she is portrayed as a woman with two sides, one a normal woman of the times, the other, someone with a dark secret.
At the begining it’s not clear exactly what that secret is. Murders, we hear in passing conversation with her friend Jan, are taking place in the area of Dog Leap Stairs, a place known to be frequented by prostitutes. But is this Monica’s secret? We discover that Monica does visit that area and get’s a thrill from doing so, but that doesn’t mean she’s a prostitute or a murderer. Or does it?
The mystery unravels as the story progresses and we find out about Monica’s history, but her dark past is set against her new present, one lightened by the presence of Bobby and their deepening love. In the light of his love, she is practically born again, a new woman, one happy to be normal, to get married even, and to declare her love. But might her past catch up with her?
This book explores the redemptive and healing power of love and the destructive effects of childhood sexual abuse. The writing takes us inside the mind of a woman who has experienced both, but it never dwells on the gory details; the focus is on Monica’s present. And the book leaves us with the question, If by the time they are caught, a criminal has already reformed, is fully repentent, and unlikely to reoffend, what purpose is fullfilled by incarcertation or hanging? The other question the reader may be left to reflect upon is, Is a criminal worthy of love?
5 stars for this highly enjoyable murder mystery written with great skill, depth and compassion.
Dog Leap Stairs is a blend of psychological realism and crime; dark, claustrophobic and atmospheric, it is both a portrait of Tyneside in the 1950s and one woman’s struggle against her nature.
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